Brown hares can be a notoriously difficult species to spot at most times of the year, apart from when their behaviour becomes more exuberant in spring and they seem to throw caution to the wind in their search for mates.
Here at Parc Slip near Bridgend we have occasional reports of hares seen by members of the public and our tenant farmer but despite this, a number of long-term conservation staff based here have never managed to catch sight of one of these charismatic creatures.
Parc Slip has a number of habitats which are suitable for brown hares; from wildflower meadows and improved pastures which offer forage and the ability to spot predators to scrub and woodlands which offer a bit more shelter in harsh weather. At this time of year hares tend to be more active between dusk and dawn so we ventured out into the cold armed with powerful torches and binoculars to try and catch a sight of a hare or two out feeding. Their eye-shine, like that of rabbits, is a distinctive orange-red which is noticeably different from that of sheep or foxes (the other animals we were most likely to see) so this is what we were hoping for.
We started off exploring some of the sheep-grazed improved pasture which has scattered rushes that hares sometimes use for shelter and we almost immediately flushed a snipe foraging in the mud. In the next field we thought we’d hit the jackpot – a pair of orange eyes reflected in the torchlight! “Hare” was whispered excitedly until the familiar form of a rabbit hopped away into the hedge...Not to be disheartened we were soon rewarded with a good sighting of a fox trotting across our torch beam.
Next we scanned two of the wildflower meadows at the reserve but nothing could be seen amongst the long grass and we didn’t want to disturb anymore snipe so we continued on a circular walk back to the office. In the penultimate field we thought we could see a hare-shaped mound amongst the rushes. As we were looking through our binoculars to see that it was in fact a female pheasant, a barn owl ghosted past us and into the night!
So we didn’t get to see any of the elusive hares that we were hoping for but it was worth braving the sub-zero temperatures for rewarding views of some of the reserve’s other nocturnal inhabitants. If you’re lucky enough to see a hare at Parc Slip or any of our other reserves then please let the Trust’s Conservation Officer, Vaughn Matthews or on 01656 724100